The Beautiful Mystery of the Soul
The longer I live, the more I am in awe of the mystery of the human soul. This eternal part of each of us that somehow instinctively knows that the ways of this world are completely out of whack and that we were made for more. This part of us that seeks the hard road rather than the easy road because it knows that something worth fighting for is its own reward and so much more valuable than any simple pleasure easily attained. This inner life that, when we will be still and quiet and humble, can commune with our Creator God and be restored no matter how wayward it has become. The Bible tells us that it is the Spirit of God himself that woos each and every soul to Himself. It also says that we can grieve that Spirit and quench its power in our lives if we ignore it long enough. I know of no greater tragedy.
I am currently reading a book called In God's Underground, written by Richard Wurmbrand, a Lutheran minister during the dark days of communist rule in Romania. He was put in prison for his faith more than once during that time. The first stint was for 9 years. He went into prison and his one and only son was a 9-year old boy. He came out of prison to be introduced to his son, the 18 year old man, without being allowed a single visit from him during those years. Such a loss of years and time, and yet God had preserved both of their souls exquisitely. On the night of his unexpected return from prison (they simply opened the gates and let him go one day) his son, Mihai, said to him, "Father, you've gone through so much. I want to know what you've learned from all your sufferings." Wurmbrand put his arm around his grown son and said, "Mihai, I've nearly forgotten my Bible in all this time. But four things were always in my mind. First, that there is a God. Secondly, Christ is our Savior. Thirdly, there is eternal life. And fourthly, love is the best of ways." My son said, "That was all I wanted." Later he told his father that he had decided to become a pastor. Two souls who had gone through so much heartache and pain, poverty and suffering - but perfectly sustained and more beautiful than they were at the beginning.
Once Wurmbrand had settled back in with his family at his very meager home in the attic of a building owned by another (their house had been taken by the government when he went to prison), he said, "Now that I was free, I longed in the depths of my heart for quietness and rest. But communism was working everywhere to complete the destruction of the Church. The peace I desired would have been an escape from reality and dangerous for my soul." It is only God who can put such depth into the human soul. Such selflessness is actually soulfulness! Denying the self for the benefit of the eternal soul. This is not harmful or sadistic, this is exchanging the temporal for the eternal and it is wise beyond earth's wisdom. When everything in us and everyone around us is telling us that retirement from the cause is in order - you've done enough - surely someone else can take up the torch now. To have a soul that knows that its very existence is owed to a Savior who did not stop until the fight was won. To have a soul that knows that it will be sustained by God through far worse than the mind or heart believe it to be able to bear. To have a soul that seeks to grow and expand and draw closer to the God who created it and wooed it from the beginning. To have a soul that trusts in the reality of the perfect plan and the power of God more than in the temporal realities it can see and feel.
This is the goal. What interesting, mysterious, paradoxical ways God can and does bring it about in each of us.
May I never curse my circumstances without first examining their soil for soul-growth properties. It could be that what the world calls prison, my soul recognizes as true freedom.
Isaiah 46:4 NIV, "Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you."
I am in the middle of reading "In My Home There Is No More Sorrow: 10 Days in Rwanda" by Rick Bass. Last night I read this passage from the book and it floored me. I knew I would need to come back to it and to reflect on its depth. I glanced at the page number to commit it to memory... 39. The number of years I've been alive. Am I as alive as I could be? Should be?
"There is a spirit moving through Rwanda that is profound and surprising. It is a spirit of what most people would call love. I'm not saying that's the whole of it. What I suspect is that there is probably not a word for it - the feeling, the spirit, the phenomenon - and none of us on the outside of it, thank God, will ever quite know what it is; not seventeen years later, and not ever. I wouldn't, on reflection, trade my numbness for what they have. Even an arm's length distance might be a little too close. It's kind of terrifying to witness such capacity for strength, for spiritual growth; who among us would not prefer, really, to remain flabby, vague, untested?"
The author, Rick Bass, visited Rwanda for 10 days three years ago and this book is the essay he wrote about his brief but profound experience in a country that has suffered through genocide after genocide after genocide. The most recent slaughter ended after one million Tutsis were killed by their Hutu countrymen within 100 days' time in 1994. Bass goes to memorial after memorial on his ten day trek taking in the blood-stained walls of churches, piles of bones and stench of decay. He comes in direct contact with both survivors of the massacre and the perpetrators of it. The Hutus and the Tutsis now miraculously live as neighbors and countrymen once again; unfathomable forgiveness has come and life goes on, powerfully, and Bass is at a loss. He would rather embrace his numbness than experience the profound wholeness and depth of a people who have witnessed/perpetrated/been victimized by such evil and yet have overcome through God's mysterious gift of forgiveness.
I am left to ponder my own numbness. When have I chosen to keep at arms length that which I cannot understand? That which I do not want to understand or believe possible. That which I know would require much more of me than I care to give up in order to obtain it?
Is numbness better than soaring on the indefinable heights of the ultimate expression of forgiveness all while the images of soul-wrenching evil still burn in memory, tethering us to the earth and its ways? Is it?
It isn't. Numbness is not better than the display of His splendor. Just ask Moses, who boldly asked God, "Please, show me Your glory!" Exodus 33:18. Just like the surviving and thriving Rwandans today, Moses came down from that mountain after experiencing the glory of God only to have others look away in fear and disbelief. His face was aglow with something they could not comprehend, something they weren't sure they wanted to comprehend. It looked painful. It looked other-worldly. It was easier to look away and remain numb. Easier, but not better. In Exodus, we read how God hid Moses in a crack in a rock while His glory passed by, knowing that Moses could only take a small portion of the weight of the immeasurable glory of God and still live. Is that what we are afraid of? Is that why we remain numb when we could experience the glory of God? Do we fear that experiencing something so beautiful and powerful might just kill us? What a way to go!
May 2014 be a year of shaking off numbness and fear in all its forms. Of living life fully, even when it hurts, especially when it hurts. Of living a life "with such capacity for strength and spiritual growth" that no one can witness it without standing in utter awe of the God who is able to bring terrifying beauty from the likes of evil men all for the display of His life-giving splendor. Glory to God.
Leap of Faith
Whenever someone gets married, we say they are "taking the plunge," or making a "leap of faith." Everyone recognizes that going into marriage, you can't possibly know everything about the person that you are committing to spend your life with, and yet, we do it anyway. We admit we don't know it all, but that what we do know is enough.
In the Bible, in the letter to the Hebrews, the 11th chapter and 1st verse, we read that "Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen," and in the sixth verse of the same chapter we learn that "Without faith, it is impossible to please God." As a parent, this makes complete sense to me: without my son having faith in me, he will never please me. Never. His faith in me is the evidence that we have a good relationship, that he acknowledges my love for him and my good intentions toward him. If he continually questions me and never trustfully relaxes in my presence, how could I ever be pleased with that relationship? It is the same in our relationship with God, our Father, and rightfully so.
Similar to marriage, if we have committed to spend our lives with Him, what we do know about Him should be enough. That doesn't mean we stop getting to know Him after that commitment is made - most married couples learn far more about each other after the wedding day than they do before - but it does mean that we live out our days in both knowledge AND faith - growing in both, but not swerving from what we originally held to when we made that "leap of faith" to begin with.
This reflection on faith, led me to look up places in the Bible that shed more light on the word. Here is what I learned:
1. Faith is more precious than gold. (1 Peter 1:7)
2. Faith results in the salvation of our souls. (1 Peter 1:9, Ephesians 2:8)
3. Faith is the victory that overcomes the world. (1 John 5:4)
4. Faith is required for miraculous healing. (Mark 10:52, Luke 8:48, Matthew 9:2, 22, 29, Matthew 8:5-13, Acts 6:8)
5. It doesn't take much faith (relatively speaking) to be able to live out life to the fullest (the size of a mustard seed would suffice). (Matthew 17:20)
6. Faith purifies and sanctifies hearts. (Acts 15:9, 26:18)
7. Local churches are established by faith. (Acts 16:5)
8. Faith brings comfort. (Romans 1:12)
9. Faith is counted as righteousness by God, which is good news because there is no one who actually IS righteous, not even one. (Romans 4:5-20)
10. Faith is the key that grants us access to God's grace. (Romans 5:2)
11. Things that don't come by faith, are often sinful. (Romans 14:23)
12. Faith exercised apart from love is worthless. (1 Corinthians 13:2)
13. There is only one true faith. (Ephesians 4:5)
14. Faith brings unity. (Ephesians 4:13)
15. Faith is a shield against the devil. (Ephesians 6:16)
16. God's promises are inherited through faith and patience. (Hebrews 6:12)
17. When faith is tested (and it WILL be tested), the believer acquires perseverance. (James 1:3)
18. Faith is a required prerequisite when asking God for wisdom. Faith that God is all-wise and that He willingly imparts wisdom to His children. (James 1:6)
I also learned through studying the scriptures about faith that we have internal and external responsibilities once we have invested faith in God:
Internally we are to:
Externally we are to:
It is a beautiful cycle - attending to our faith internally leads to a stronger desire to demonstrate our faith externally, and those experiences of acting on our faith in God fan the flame of our internal faith-walk even more, until 10-25-50 years later we celebrate anniversaries of faith in Christ and marvel at how much more precious He is to us now than he was when we first believed, and tell the world how glad we are that we took that leap of faith!
When our son was a toddler, we learned a nifty parenting trick. After suffering through meltdown after meltdown whenever it was time to transition from one activity to the next, we discovered that if we gave our son a 5 or 10 minute warning before the transition was about to happen, the meltdowns were a thing of the past. "Tim, it will be time to help clean up toys and say goodbye in ten minutes." "Tim, dinner will be in five minutes, so get ready to stop your video." As long as he knew what was coming and when, he could cope. When he had time to wrap things up or finish on his own terms, he was golden. If the meltdown wasn't completely averted, it was at least lessened in severity.
Don't you wish we had the luxury of those kinds of warnings in life as adults. "Carla, in six months you will not be living here any more and you'll have to start over." "Carla, within the year, that person that you are so attached to will pass away." "Carla, in the next week someone in your family will become ill." Just a little warning, wouldn't that be nice? Just a little heads up so we can wrap our minds around what is coming and finish or adjust on our own terms.
The thing is, these little advance warnings weren't the most valuable things we could offer our son. Yes, they made life a little more bearable in the moment, especially as he was making his way through those toddler years, but it was never meant to be a way of life. After all, we wouldn't always have a warning ourselves. Sometimes we would need to make a transition with little to no warning and we would need him to trust us and spring into action before his emotions could catch up. What we really wanted him to learn were things like - Your Mom and Dad love you and we are in charge. We know what is best and we are working with an agenda that includes more than your immediate happiness, things you just aren't prepared to understand yet. The more you trust us, the more you will see that we have your best interest at heart. We may ask you to do some things that you do not want to do, but it is never out of cruelty. At the end of the day, what we really wanted him to learn to do was to rest in our trustworthiness, and to respond based on our relationship not on an attachment to an established, predictable routine.
The same is true with our walk through life. The routine will inevitably vary, so putting our trust in things always being the way they have been in the past is foolish. Many times God will orchestrate situations in such a way as to soften the blows of painful change. Other times, however, we will be called upon to simply respond in faith-filled obedience, when there is no resemblance of the normal routine anywhere in sight, no promise of how things will be resolved or how long the transition to a new normal will take.
In the end, through the pages of scripture, I have been given three things that are of greater value than a glimpse into the immediate future:
At the end of the day, this is what has been offered to me and it is what I have to offer the world. It isn't a safe, predictable routine, it is a relationship with the One who created all of us and has a vested interest in our future. It isn't an advance warning system of difficult changes that lie ahead and it isn't a promise that life will be easy or pain-free. It is the message of the gospel and it is enough.
I know who you are.
Today I was adding new music to my iPod for my commute to work and I started exploring the songs of JJ Heller. I'd heard a few, but I wanted to hear more.
One song in particular struck me immediately. It is entitled, "Who You Are." It describes the lives of individuals who are going through trying times; life isn't looking the way they thought it would, and they are in pain. In their sorrow and confusion, they admit that they don't know what God is doing. I can still hear the chorus ringing in my ears, "I don't know, I don't know what You're doing. But I know who You are."
We can get through a lot when we know who we are walking through it with. When we are sure. 100% certain. No doubts. We don't have to know everything in every situation, but we do have to know one thing for sure. Who is it that walks with me?
The most heart-wrenching time in any relationship comes when one offends the other to the point where the offendee begins to not only take offense at the wrong doing, but to go so far as to question whether or not he really knew this friend in the first place. This sense of betrayal is a common theme in movies. We've all heard lines like, "I never even knew you." or "Who are you, anyway?" It feeds into our innate fear of trust. Our fear of giving ourselves completely to another person. There is always the risk that the wool is being pulled over your eyes, that what you wanted to believe about your friend, or lover, or parent, or mentor isn't actually true. That's when the walls crumble down around you and the way out seems bleak.
BUT, what if you knew? What if you never had to wonder? What if you were absolutely certain that the character & capacity of the one you put your trust in was ROCK SOLID? How many more confusing times could you make your way through together? How many perceived offenses could you see past? How much deeper could the water get without you panicking? How much higher would the mountains be that you could climb with him beside you? It is almost impossible to fathom, if you have been repeatedly burned in your earthly relationships... that this kind of trust could exist.
When JJ Heller sings, "Who You Are," this is what she is singing about. She is reminding herself and all of us that we can know God. His character is described vividly and consistently in the Bible and we can count on him to be who He says He is. Every. Single. Time.
Circumstances will change.
God will not.
*This is cheating, because it is really better when you open your own Bible and pray your very own prayers and let God show Himself to you PERSONALLY, but - if you need a jump-start, a crash course in the character of God - this is a good place to start.
Not one moment that we spend reading the Bible, praying, listening to godly men and women teach and share, acting on what we learn, not one single moment is wasted. Over time, each of these acts becomes a building block in our relationship with Jesus Christ. His character IS rock solid. But in our fallen human state, having encountered unpredictable and untrustworthy people time and time again, we don't come to put our full weight on Him over night. It comes in time. It is built by experience. Give Him a chance. He will prove to be exactly who He says He is, and that knowledge can make the sun rise after even the darkest of nights.
The PROVEN Life
"You are capable, competent, creative, careful. Prove it."
That was the fortune hidden inside my cookie on Friday night at the local Chinese restaurant. I had to laugh. I once heard my Dad jokingly say that my first words were, "Prove it!" I'm naturally a questioner and an analyzer. A truth-seeker. I want things to make sense and to be backed up by logic and facts (life of the party, I know). On the other side of that coin, if something can't be proven, I often have little time for it. I'm not a big fan of philosophical discussions or "what ifs" (much to the chagrin of my visionary, possibility thinking husband). This fortune, turned the magnifying glass back at me though. If I am who I think I am, then I should prove it, right?! It should be backed up by predictable actions and decisions that become "facts" about me and my character.
It is such a blessing to have people in our lives who do what this fortune cookie did for me... remind us of who we are and challenge us to live it out. It is even better to have His Word written on our hearts reminding us of who God says we are and how He's already proven it!
2 Corinthians 5:17 - "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed way. Behold, the new has come!" ESV
Galatians 5:1 - "For freedom, Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery." ESV
Ephesians 5:8 - "For at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light." ESV
The reality is, I don't have to prove anything to anyone, and no one has anything to prove to me. God has proven what is ultimately true. It is now up to us to walk in that truth. Daily.
Like a Mighty Rushing Wind
Last night a storm came through our town, it continued through most of today bringing strong winds and blowing snow. My husband was sick, so he slept upstairs in our bed and I crashed on the couch, only I couldn't really crash. I just laid there for hours listening to the sound of the wind rushing around our house and through the trees. I heard the creaking of the front porch swing. I felt the strangeness of "perfectly still air" indoors knowing that just on the other side of the window, the door, the exterior walls, the air was anything but still. It was violent, powerful, unstoppable.
I immediately formed a mental picture of the protection of God while the storms of life rage all around yet inner peace is maintained supernaturally. I thought I'd spend some time today writing about that beautiful stillness in the storm. But when I sat down to write, I knew there was more to the story, or at least a different angle. Some winds we are not supposed to be sheltered from. There is a wind we are supposed to be right in the middle of, enveloped by, changed by.
The winds of this world, Jesus can still. He proved that on more than one occasion with his disciples on the sea. Sometimes he demonstrated this power by his words, rebuking the wind and the waves, and other times by his mere presence (Matthew 4 & 6). It strikes me, that when Jesus instructed His disciples that He would have to leave them to return to the Father, but that a helper would come - that the helper was ushered in by a violent, rushing wind (Acts 2). Wind leaves little doubt as to power. Unseen power. Every power on earth was created by God and is less powerful than God, a pale glimpse of what He is capable of. The sun in our solar system is unbelievably bright, so bright we cannot gaze directly at it for very long without fear of damaging our eyes, but we are told that when we are in God's presence in heaven there will be no need for a sun to provide light and warmth. God will BE our light. Unfathomable!
It is only fitting then that He should demonstrate a greater wind as well. A wind that brings life and not destruction. A wind that can distinguish between that which should remain and that which should be blown away within the soul to make room for that which should reside there. I am feeling that now in my own life. Feeling the aches and pains of old soul scars acting up, as a fresh wind prepares to blow through and bring about some needed changes in my life. As Christians, we are not able to live comfortably, happily, unscathed while holding on to things that do not belong in our souls - sinful attitudes, actions, desires. They eat at us and the pressure mounts, reminding us that these lesser gods have no place in our lives. And yet, if we insist on them for long enough, God will allow us to batten down the hatches of our hearts, boarding up the open places - and effectively QUENCH the wind of His Spirit. We haven't beaten Him or overpowered Him if we do this... we have rejected His life-giving work.
This song, by Keith Green expresses a desire to remain wide open for the wind of God's Spirit to blow through our lives and do the work it was created to do. I used to sing it in college and it comes to mind frequently. May I ever be grateful for and open to His Mighty Rushing Wind.
Rushing wind, blow through this temple,
Blowing out the dust within;
Come and breathe your breath upon me:
I've been born again.
Holy Spirit, I surrender; take me where you want to go.
Plant me by your living water,
Plant me deep so I can grow.
Jesus, you’re the one who sets my spirit free;
Use me, Lord; glorify your Holy Name through me.
Separate me from this world, Lord;
Sanctify my life for you.
Daily change me to your image,
Help me bear good fruit.
Ev'ry day you're drawing closer;
Trials come to test my faith.
But when all is said and done, Lord,
You know it's been worth the wait.
Jesus, you’re the one who set my spirit free;
Use me, Lord; glorify your Holy Name through me.
Rushing wind, blow through this temple,
Blowing out the dust within;
Come and breathe your breath upon me,
For I've been born again.
Are we awake now?
I've lost nothing, personally. Not a family member or friend. Not even a community member or a friend of a friend. Yet, my stomach churns and the tears flow.
I find myself asking... Do I get it now? Do I recognize the frailty of life? Is this what it takes to wake up a 30-something wife and mother to the reality that she will eventually lose every relationship and every earthly thing - either when they pass on to eternity or when she does?
Everything on this earth can and will be shaken. Do I really understand that now? If I do, how then shall I live?
Is this a wake-up call to YOLO living? You do only live once, after all.
Is this a wake-up call to pursue a cause? Gun control? Anti-gun control? Better care and more options for those with mental illnesses? Surely some action should be taken, after all.
Is this a wake-up call to love my family more fully? Do I need to become more involved in my son's school? Devote more time to family activities? Visit relatives more frequently? Family is important, after all.
Is this a wake-up call to be more observant? Do I need to pay closer attention to the people around me who may show signs of being unstable? Should I think back on every person I've known through the years and see who might fit a profile? After all, If I don't notice, who will?
Over the coming days and weeks, Americans will be encouraged to do all of these things by a variety of people we have likely never met nor will we ever meet - newscasters, political figures, heads of movements - and we may even be challenged to examine some of these things by our own family and friends. We are awake now, and when you are awake it is time to get up and do something.
So what shall we do? How shall we live in a world where horrible things happen without a single warning? Here are some suggestions the Bible offers for living "fully awake:"
1. Know God. At the end of the day, everything in this world can be shaken and taken. Make it a point to know the only One who cannot. There is no excuse for not getting to know Him. Romans 1:20 NIV: "For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse." The unshakable, unchangeable God of the universe invites you to know Him: James 4:8-10 NIV - "Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up."
2. Be Kind, Forgiving and Joyful. Pray and Give Thanks to God. Once you know God and you are steadily learning more about Him more, you inevitably want to know what He wants from your life. What is his will? 1 Thessalonians 5:15-18 - "Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else. Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances;for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus."
3. Spread His Hope, Lovingly. Don't keep His light to yourself. The world is a dark place. Don't just be glad for the Holy Spirit's unquenchable flame in your life; share it with others. 1 Peter 3:15 NIV - "But in your hearts, set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect."
We can do these things, and by God's grace, though outwardly we may be wasting away as the world turns on, inwardly we can be renewed day by day (2 Corinthians 4:16).
It will take people who are being inwardly renewed day by day to keep up the good fight - to live life knowing we only have so many days on earth, to respectfully and passionately pursue causes worth pursuing, to love our families selflessly, and to be truly observant and mindful of those around us.
"For this reason it says, 'Awake, Sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you." - Ephesians 5:14
What in the world goes on inside our brains any way? Could there possibly be anything more complex on the Earth than the human brain? It controls our breathing and bodily systems without us even being aware or focusing on those things. The brain is where we process numbers, letters, language, emotions, theories, philosophies, and ideas. It is where we ponder purpose, meaning, and God. We talk about the "heart" and "matters of the soul and spirit" but all of these are processed in the brain - as far as I know there is nothing in my chest or abdominal cavity that is contemplating love, friendship, hatred, sin, or sacrifice... nope, just oxygen, blood, and the Nutter Butter I just snacked on.
I was recently doing some research on the work of the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex of the brain, specifically looking at scientists' observations of the threat/reward impulse and what some call the "Amygdala Hijack." Fascinating dinner conversation, I can assure you. As scientists observe the brain's activity during different scenarios, they have noticed several consistent patterns:
Here's the deal, the amygdala gets hijacked, and rightfully so, when someone cuts us off in traffic and we are afraid we are going to crash, when we slip near the edge of a cliff and nearly fall, etc. Basically when our lives are at risk. Here's the deeper deal, the limbic system is also subconsciously creating physical reactions in us for social survival too. It reacts strongly when things like: our status, our ability to predict the future, our sense of being in control, our ability to feel relationally close to others, or our sense of fairness are threatened. Before we can ever have a rational thought about these things, our brain has established pathways for classifying something as good or bad in relation to these areas.
This is fascinating to me. Science is great! Observing the world around us and even our own bodies and functioning is worthwhile, however, observation of what has been created alone, cannot bring full understanding - in fact it can lead us astray unless we seek the wisdom of the creator to temper it with.
1. Science observes: Status is important to people's happiness. If the brain perceives that social status is being threatened, it reacts strongly. If the brain perceives an increase in social status, being elevated above others, this is desirable. Brain scientist's answer: Elevate yourself. Seek ways to minimize the threats to your status and maximize the opportunities to get ahead of others.
The Bible says: Status belongs to God alone. We are to reject impulses to elevate ourselves and rather humble ourselves and allow God to exalt us in due time as He sees fit. (James 4:10, Psalm 145:3, Philippians 2:3)
2. Science says: Knowing the future and living in certainty brings feelings of comfort and security (increases in dopamine). Brain scientist's answer: Proactively organize your life to reduce uncertainty, plan, plan, plan.
The Bible says: The future belongs to God alone. He alone knows what it holds and He alone is the source of lasting comfort and security. We are to trust him and release our claims to knowing the future. (James 4:13-17, 2 Corinthians 1:3-5)
3. Science observes: Having choices and a sense of control is vital to mental health.
The Bible says: Releasing control and choosing God's will is vital to spiritual health. The most important choice is choosing God and that choice leads to relinquishing control, not grasping on to it. (Joshua 24:15, Romans 12:2, 1 Peter 4:1-2, 1 John 2:17)
4. Science observes: Being in relationship with other people and having safety in those relationships frees you to think freely.
The Bible says: Offer your friendship to those who may have nothing to give you in return. Relationships are important and safety in relationships is good, but they aren't all about what's in it for us. (Ephesians 5:21, Romans 12:13-16)
5. Science observes: Do what you can to pursue fairness in your world to reduce your feelings of threat.
The Bible says: Life isn't fair because sin is a part of our world. We need not feel threatened by a lack of fairness because we serve a just God who will right wrongs perfectly in time. We pursue justice, not to make our own path easier or straighter, but to aid those who cannot help themselves. We do not demand fairness for ourselves because we know that if we were treated fairly, ultimately we deserve death. (Deuteronomy 32:4, Romans 12:17-21)
At the end of the day, we are not bound to the inevitable chemical reactions of our brains. 2 Corinthians 2:15-16 NIV says, "The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man's judgement. 'For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct Him?' But we have the mind of Christ." One of the ways scientists have observed to avoid the long lasting effects of a hijacked amygdala is to reframe your reality and experience. As Christians - God has given us a frame for our worldview with which to talk ourselves off the ledges of life. It is given in His Word. Let's fill our minds with the truth of scripture and in doing so re-train our brains to perceive what true threats and rewards really are. Then we will be ready to take risks, look outside ourselves for fulfillment, sacrifice freely, and basically have a life that counts for something, not just a life that is comfortable.
That's all I have to say about that.
How I Know God is Real
A couple of weeks ago, I told my son a story that helped renew his faith in God's existence. It got me thinking. How do I know God exists? I have no idea how long this post is going to turn out to be, but I'm going to pour out from my heart whatever comes to mind from my personal experience that reassures me that I know MY GOD exists. I am going to focus on ways that are personal to me, this isn't going to be an academic or intellectual endeavor this time around, although the evidence is staggering! (Check out the references at the end of this post for more information on the more universal evidence pointing to God's existence.) These reasons are all mine. You could refute them in a million ways, and explain them away, but it won't take away from my joy or my confidence. My hope doesn't rest on these experiences, (that hope comes from the Bible and the Bible alone) but my faith has been strengthened by them along the way.
1. I have been protected from COUNTLESS mishaps as a naive younger woman that cannot be explained. I should have been harmed. Period.
2. I once read my Bible one morning and then went to work and shared what I had learned with a co-worker who sobbed, telling me that she had randomly opened her Bible that very morning in desperation and read the exact same portion of scripture and got up bereaved because she didn't understand it. I had, unknowingly, interpreted it for her, and it spoke directly to a situation she was going through that I was unaware of.
3. I have woken up in the middle of the night with crystal clear ideas about ministry that I couldn't have come up with on my own.
4. I have been offered jobs and promotions that my own knowledge and skill set could not have commanded on their own.
5. My soul has been saved. Of that I have no doubts.
6. I have a strong desire to be in church with my brothers and sisters in Christ. Every. Sunday.
7. I have had just the right friends at just the right times in my life.
8. My heart rate accelerates alarmingly whenever I am in a Bible Study or Sunday School class and I feel like I am supposed to speak up about something. Whatever comes out of my mouth in those moments is passionate and very different emotionally than any other context where I might share things with a group.
9. There has been more than one occasion in my life when I needed a certain amount of money and God has provided it either to the penny, or above and beyond.
10. When we moved across the country (at God's leading), we left before our house had sold. We got a solid offer 100 miles before our car crossed the border into the new State we would be living in.
11. When our foster daughters were brought to our home, I experienced the most unbelievable feeling of peace and a sustaining energy that I had never felt before. I sensed God's pleasure and His provision.
12. I have been able to forgive offenses that would have haunted others for decades.
13. When my son uttered his belief in Christ and asked for forgiveness of his sins at the tender age of 6, he said and did some very specific things that made my heart sing and tears roll down my face. I had been fearful that he would attempt to make that decision too early in life and that he wouldn't really understand it and that I would be plagued with doubts. I have never doubted the reality of that experience for him.
14. I felt compelled to spend some time in intensive research of a specific portion of the Bible. My husband agreed to me being away from the house for 3-4 hours a day for a month as I studied and wrote. When it was all said and done, we didn't know what I was supposed to do with the final product. We prayed about it. Four months later a friend called and asked me if I would speak at weekend women's retreat at her church. I had already prepared for it and I didn't even know she was going to ask.
15. My husband is not the man that I spent my college years looking for, and yet he is completely and utterly perfect for me in every way possible. He came into my life unexpectedly and in a desert place (literally).
16. Many times when I read the Bible I find myself getting very excited or weeping, or compelled to act on what I've read. This book was written by men who lived 2,000 years before I came on the scene, who lived in a very different cultural context. There is no other book I have this reaction to.
17. Two of our foster daughters' mother was in a coma and very near to death. I taught them to pray for the first times in their lives and we daily prayed for her recovery. She bounced back.
18. My son has an inner joy and an adaptability that we could never have instilled in him on our own. It is a gift from God that has sustained him through a lot of changes.
19. My parents moved to Southeast Asia as missionaries before my son learned to crawl. I prayed that he would somehow be able to bond with them and love them well even though the distance couldn't have been greater. They never spent a Christmas, Thanksgiving or birthday with us for the first 8 years of his life. As an 11 year old boy, he LIGHTS UP at the thought of spending time with them and loves them deeply as though they lived down the street.
20. I am rarely without a song in my heart.
These are a few of my faith-builders over the years. They are not yours. They aren't the bottom-line proof of my faith in God, but they are the icing on the cake.
Looking for more concrete answers to your questions about God:
1. Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry website - go here and click on "Questions."
2. Evidence That Demands A Verdict - a book by Josh McDowell
3. Give Me An Answer website - by Cliff Knechtle
Or - pick up a Bible - say a prayer telling God you want to find Him - seek out a Bible believing church to start attending - and see what happens:
"You will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart." - God. Jeremiah 29:13
Walking Your Bike
Bikes were made to ride! I knew this from a young age, but I also knew, that riding them could involve crashing and injury, and that knowledge kept me learning to ride a bike until I was almost 10 years old. I am a late-blooming bike rider, and this is my story.
My brother rode his bike like a speed demon from a very early age. My father, knowing my intense fear (and my stubborn nature), refused to buy me my own bicycle until I bit the bullet and learned to ride one of the bicycles the family already owned. He also refused my insistence on training wheels altogether. (Remind me to tell you someday about how he made me learn to drive in a stick-shift car on a hilly road, during the time of day when the sun was right in your eyes...he wasn't big on coddling, shall we say.) Well, in my mind, the bikes in our shed wouldn't do at all. They were too far off the ground! I could fall, I could get seriously injured! So, I dug my heels in and just refused to learn.
That was all fine and dandy until ALL of my friends had mastered the art of riding a bike and we all started to get old enough to be given a bit more freedom. Suddenly, my friends were out riding their bikes around the neighborhood and to each others' houses to visit and I was being left behind. One day a friend who was unaware of my non-bike-riding status, knocked on my front door and invited me to ride to the park. I panicked. Without thinking, I said, "Sure! Just let me get my bike." I purposefully went to the shed and pulled out a bike and then proceeded to WALK IT ALL THE WAY TO THE PARK while my friend rode beside me very slowly, totally perplexed. I kept insisting, "I just feel like walking today."
The truth was that I didn't at all feel like walking. I wanted nothing more than to hop on that bike and ride alongside my friend with my hair blowing in the breeze, but I was afraid I'd crash,fall, and bleed. The truth was, I probably would fall. Most people do when they learn to ride a bike, right? My fear wasn't irrational, it had just become too large in my mind.
Can I fess up right now? This still happens to me to this day. Oh, I learned to ride a bike alright (with minimal bloodshed, thank-you-very-much), but fears can still become inappropriately large in my mind if I let them. There are legitimately concerning things in this world, don't get me wrong! We are all bound to take a tumble or two (or 10) financially, with our health, in our relationships, at work, at church, in service to others, at school, the unknown is vast and the likelihood of coming through life unscathed is nonexistent. So what is a girl to do? Fake it? Pretend to take risks while always keeping one foot safely on the ground? Not an option - we aren't fooling anyone! Everyone can see when you are walking the bike and everyone knows it isn't because you "feel like walking." You are afraid. Admit it. Confess it. Ask God to help you through it.
As someone who is currently and has in the past navigated some pretty treacherous terrain in life, let me tell you - the ride is worth it.
Deuteronomy 31:6 NIV "Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you or forsake you."
"You and I are in little (our sins excepted) what God is in large." - A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God.
I am pondering this quote today. Genesis 1:27 tells us that we were made in God's image. With the exception of our sin nature, the stuff that makes us up is a minute version of the stuff that makes up God. That is worth a few moments of reflection, and could even change the way we view ourselves and others forever if pondered with the proper weight!
If you are single, you have probably been asked what you look for in a potential date/spouse. If you are married, chances are you've had a single friend ask you what they should look for in a mate. How do you answer? Our laundry list of desirable traits might read like this:
- a sense of humor
- good with children
- spiritually mature
- attractive (to you)
- a good communicator
The list could go on and on. Look back over the list for a moment. Is there any trait that does not apply to God? God embodies the most complete, perfect, holy version of every trait that is attractive to us in another human being. The qualities in others that draw us to them, are the very qualities of God; the qualities that God himself possesses in FULL MEASURE.
The challenge that comes with this knowledge is three fold:
1 - To view God accurately - not to withhold from him in our minds the very characteristics that we admire in others, not to downplay His perfection or His ability, not to make Him something that He is not in our thoughts - something that is on the same level as what we have observed here on earth. He is entirely other, beyond what we can fathom in His perfection.
2 - To view ourselves accurately - not to beat ourselves up for having emotions (our God experiences emotions), not to accept a lower standard when a higher one has been set by our Creator, not to see ourselves as greater than we are - no matter how much we excel in a given trait, God is greater still to the nth degree.
3 - To view others accurately - to admire their positive qualities without elevating them to the place of demi-god in our minds, to expect and hope for the best in others because we know they are made of "god-stuff," just as we are (even if they aren't demonstrating it for a season), to refrain from judging them for the qualities that are lesser developed in them than in ourselves - to quote a former Sunday School teacher of mine: "Comparing my vertical leap with my neighbor's is pretty foolish if the moon is the goal." No one can can jump to the moon and the few inches that I may have over my neighbor in my vertical leap is a pretty ridiculous comparison when I consider the actual goal. (Thanks for the illustration, Doug Bridges, I've never forgotten it.)
The lyrics to this song say perfectly some of what I have just stumbled through trying to explain, I hope it blesses you and increases your scope of who our God is and how great He is:
Turning Over a New Leaf
"Some of us have turned over more new leaves than Central Park! David called on God instead, to create something entirely new within him." - Fresh Faith, by Jim Cymbala
The beginning of a new school year feels a lot like January 1st to me. The calendar year may not roll over and the ball in Times Square may not drop, but there is definitely a sense of freshness and new possibilities. I remember, as a college student, setting goals for the school year that mainly involved dropping the bad habits I'd picked up in the previous semester... I committed to more studying, more time in the Bible, more phone calls home, less skipping classes, less Ben & Jerry's, and less procrastination. Somehow, just like New Year's resolutions, those commitments didn't last long.
I love this quote from Jim Cymbala in his book, Fresh Faith. It is a great reminder that God is willing and able to recreate us, not just repackage us. So, my prayer for all of us, especially those returning to school in the days ahead is the same as David's "Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me." Psalm 51:10 NIV.
Here's to a great school year marked by the kind of changes that only God can create!
The next two weeks will be filled with goodbyes for our family. As our move date rapidly approaches, each time we see someone now, we aren't sure whether we will see them again before we move, so we end up taking a bit more time and a bit more care when we say each goodbye. The students at Lock Haven University have a special place in our hearts. I first opened my own heart wide to them all when I arrived in Lock Haven several weeks before the rest of the family in 2009. I remember attending the first New Life Student Fellowship meeting of the school year and introducing myself as the wife of their soon-to-be Campus Minister. I remember telling this group of strangers to feel free to call me or Facebook or just stop by the house I was staying at any time. I invited the girls to come over for dinner one night and told them to be sure to RSVP so I'd know how many to cook for. Their unique way of responding is now a cherished memory documented in the picture below. To say I loved it would be the understatement of the century. I loved that I had opened my heart to them and they responded by showing me that they were so grateful that I had.
Whenever we open our hearts to others, we take a risk. We risk rejection. We risk being hurt. We risk learning things about ourselves or them that we didn't want to learn. Certainly, there are those who we initially open our hearts to that end up becoming people that we need to be careful with. Jim Cymbala, Pastor of the Brooklyn Tabernacle, says it this way in his book, Fresh Faith:
"Don't you know how to say no? This is not your house! You don't have the right to let in everyone/thing that wants to enter."
Pastor Cymbala is refering to the fact that, as believers, our hearts are God's dwelling place, and that when He takes up residence, He also takes up ownership. We don't get to choose who we let in and who we keep out any more. He decides. "You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price..." 1 Corinthians 6:20 NLT. Sometimes we agree with Him. Other times we don't. The result should be the same: obedience. We can't keep people at arms-length any more just because they are different or difficult. Nor can we continue to allow others to remain close to us and sin in the way they treat us or interact with us (emotional/verbal/physical abuse, causing us to stumble,) without speaking up. We have to love them enough to set up boundaries that keep them at an appropriate distance to encourage their healing and repentance and not enable their sinful tendencies in our relationship.
Many more times, however, we will open our hearts and be rewarded as a result. Sometimes through finding a kindred spirit, other times by learning lessons we needed at just the time we needed them. Sometimes by finding a catalyst for our own maturity, other times by being able to help another along on his/her journey. We have found all of these things in our relationships with students and friends here in Lock Haven. As we prepare to move, we will once again, open our hearts wide to the people in our new church and city, and wait expectantly to see how God asks us to respond to each and every one.
Until then, we will spend the next two weeks, reassuring those who have a special place in our hearts just how precious they are to us and how very privileged we have been to walk with them these few years. We don't regret opening our hearts to any of you one bit!
Independence vs. Dependence
Happy Independence Day! We Ritzes are getting ready to do what many other Americans are anticipating today as well - spending time with friends, enjoying hamburgers and hot dogs from the grill, making homemade ice cream, playing games, relaxing and hopefully taking in some fireworks later this evening. This morning as I think about what this day means to our country, I am also pausing to think about the the idea of independence, and how truly illusive it is.
It seems that, as individuals, just as we declare our independence from one person, idea, season of life, pattern of behavior, or situation - another area of dependence is revealed. We cannot escape it. Our country has not been able to escape it either. Dependency is a lifelong lesson-learning opportunity. Figuring out what we are dependent on, deciding if it is a healthy dependency, and if the extent of the dependency is appropriate and then adjusting relationships and behaviors as needed to bring balance. We do this over and over and over again throughout our lifetime.
We seek this balance in each of our relationships, in our work life, in our financial planning, in our decision making, and in our spiritual life. When we become overly dependent or overly independent in any area, things start to breakdown and we begin to suffer and, as much as we don't want to admit it, those closest to us suffer as well.
I once heard this quote: "The only entity that can completely control your life without ultimately destroying it is God." He is the only One we can ultimately be wholly and completely dependent on without negative consequences. Jesus himself said in John 15:5 NIV, "I am the vine, you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit. Apart from Me, you can do nothing." YOU CAN DO NOTHING apart from Him. If that isn't a call to acknowledging complete dependency on God and God alone, then I don't know what is. When anything else in our lives, other than God, demands this kind of dependency we get very uncomfortable very quickly, and if/when we become this dependent on anything other than God things fall apart just as quickly.
On this Independence Day, as we celebrate the blessings of life and freedom in the United States, let us also consider the reality of our own dependency on God and ask ourselves a few penetrating questions to see if we are experiencing the most life and freedom in Christ possible:
1. What one thing or person in my life do I feel like I truly cannot live without? Why? Do I really have any control over whether or not this thing/person remains in my life?
2. What good thing am I doing in my life right now that I would likely stop doing if I didn't have the support I currently have? How did I become dependent on this support in order to do the right thing?
3. Who am I allowing to depend on me inappropriately and how? Why have I allowed this? How can I stop this for that person's benefit?
4. How am I demonstrating the reality of my dependency on God on a daily basis? Can any one else in my life tell that I acknowledge this dependence? What is one change I can make today to release my dependency on people/things and embrace my dependency on God?
From Darkness to Light
I am currently reading the autobiography of Helen Keller. I am barely 100 pages in and I have already become enthralled with the world and life of this remarkable woman who lost both her hearing and sight at the age of 18 months (due to illness).
Before language had been fully developed in her mind, she was thrust into a world where her only means of interpreting the stuff of life would be her sense of touch, taste, smell and imagination. She couldn't see the love in her parents eyes or hear their words of affection. Their identity in her life became an amalgam of how they smelled, what they did for her and exposed her to, and how they touched her. She had no way of expressing her needs and wants other than crude pantomime, and she had no way of contemplating anything that wasn't concretely observable through her remaining senses. Talk about a dark existence.
Enter Ann Sullivan, the woman Helen would come to affectionately call "Teacher." When Ann first met Helen (almost age 7), she brought her a doll as a gift. In the days ahead as Ann tried to break through the darkness in Helen's mind by teaching her language by spelling out words in her hand using the manual alphabet, Helen would, understandably, become frustrated and angry. In one moment of particular frustration, she took out her aggression on the doll: "I became impatient at her repeated attempts and, seizing the new doll, I dashed it upon the floor. I was keenly delighted when I felt the fragments of the broken doll at my feet. Neither sorrow nor regret followed my passionate outburst. I had not loved the doll. In the still, dark world in which I lived there was no strong sentiment of tenderness.”
On that same day as God would have it, Helen had a breakthrough. Ann took her outside to the well on her family's property and poured the cool well water over her cupped hands and then spelled the word W-A-T-E-R into her palm. "Suddenly I felt a misty consciousness as of something forgotten – a thrill of returning thought; and somehow the mystery of language was revealed to me. I knew then that w-a-t-e-r meant the wonderful cool something that was flowing over my hand. That living word awakened my soul, gave it light, hope, joy, set it free! There were barriers still, it is true, but barriers that could in time be swept away.”
While this story in and of itself is truly amazing and wonderful, it is what happened next in Helen's account that captured my attention even more. When they came back to the house after her encounter with w-a-t-e-r, this is what she recounts: "On entering the door, I remembered the doll I had broken. I felt my way to the hearth and picked up the pieces. I tried vainly to put them together. Then my eyes filled with tears, for I realized what I had done, and for the first time I felt repentance and sorrow.”
How remarkable this is to me! It wasn't until the light shined into Helen's dark world through the gift of language that she was able to step outside of her own self-centered existence to grieve over the ramifications of her actions. The doll immediately became, not just "one more thing in a dark world to be touched and examined," but rather "a gift" from someone who cared enough about her to work with her through her frustrations to help her get to a place where the light could shine.
Perspective is a gift. How many things in our lives do we (literally, or figuratively with our words) "dash upon the floor" in frustration all because we lack the perspective?
This is how Helen describes the end of that blessed day in her book: "It would have been difficult to find a happier child than I was as I lay in my bed at the close of that eventful day and lived over the joys it had brought me, and for the first time longed for a new day to come.”
Perspective. Light. Grace. Living Water. The Word. These are the things that brought Helen Keller out of darkness, out of that unfeeling place and into a state of mind that could make a blind and deaf child joyful and thoroughly excited about the days ahead. Because of the love of God, the best teacher of all, these things still have this power and always will.
The words of Jesus from John 7:38, "He who believes in me, as the Scripture said, 'From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.'" NASB
Designed to Need a Savior
I do not normally (ever) write about particularly controversial things on my blog. I just write about what I'm thinking about. Sometimes it is funny, sometimes it is spiritual, sometimes it is introspective. Well, right now I happen to be thinking about something that is controversial. It happens on occasion. I've sat here and debated whether or not to write down my thoughts, and finally decided that I should. Not to make a point. Not to become a lightening rod for opinions and criticism. Just to continue doing what I've always done...write what I happen to be thinking about at any given moment. So here goes.
Just down the road from us in Bellefonte, PA, a jury is currently deliberating and preparing to come to a verdict in the trial of former Penn State football coach,Jerry Sandusky who has been accused of many different crimes related to inappropriate sexual contact with multiple young boys over the course of several years. This case has drawn intense national media attention. As reporters and news outlets are each trying to come up with a different angle on the case, and gain more readers in the process, articles are emerging on the periphery that have nothing to do with Jerry Sandusky or his accusers. They are focusing, instead, on pedophilia. Analyzing it, dissecting it, puting it out there for the world to consider and talk about. Tonight I read one such article on CNN.com. Here is the link: http://www.cnn.com/2012/06/21/opinion/cantor-pedophila-sandusky/index.html?hpt=hp_t3
The article asks two questions: 1. Are people born pedophiles? and 2. Do pedophiles deserve sympathy? First, the article defines a pedophile as someone who has a sexual attraction toward children. The author distinguishes a pedophile from a child molester by stating that not every pedophile acts on their urges and actually molests a child. Scientific evidence is then given that points to the possibility that people can be born with a bent toward being sexually attracted toward children. Thus, the question the author poses, "If people are born this way, should we feel sorry for them?"
I've been thinking about the greater questions that this conversation brings to the surface and I wanted to jot down my thoughts here as I process them. I am not a theologian. I am not a doctor. I am not a geneticist. I am the sum total of the thoughts, experiences, knowledge, and faith that God has blessed me with. It is from this humble place that I offer these observations:
1. As I read the Bible, I read of a God who has created us in His image, knitting us together in our mother's womb. I read of a God who does not make mistakes and has no regrets.
2. This fact does not mean that our physical bodies are "perfect" in the way that we define perfection. As simple human beings who, apart from faith, have only this world as a frame of reference and only other human beings to compare ourselves to - we define perfection as that which is most desirable to the most people. God is not limited by this world and thus does not define perfection in that way.
3. We do not understand when someone is born blind, or deaf, or autistic, or with a physical malformation. We see these things as disabilities, and at times we question a God who could allow someone to suffer such "imperfection," undeservedly.
4. As science continues to delve into the area of genetics and attempts to separate out that which is nature versus that which is nurture, more and more physical and psychological "imperfections" are believed to have been hardwired into people before they were born.
5. As a person of the Christian faith, I must choose to compare myself, not to those around me, but rather to Jesus Christ alone. The Bible tells me that none of us is perfect. Nope, not even one. Not because of our "flawed" God-given physical bodies or psyches, but because of what we've chosen to act on, sinfully. We do not know what proclivities were hard-wired into Jesus' physical DNA while he was on Earth. We do know that the Bible says he was tempted in EVERY WAY but was without sin. Every. Way. Whatever his tendencies were, he never acted on them sinfully. He is our gold standard, not each other, but the one who walked this Earth and was tempted but did not sin. Jesus, when tempted, returned to scripture and prayer, and he never acted on any temptation. We are to do the same, with His help. These tendencies toward sin, these imperfections, can actually drive us right into the arms of the one and only Savior of the world, and that is where we have belonged all along.
6. Should we feel sorry for the pedophile? No. But not because he/she is repulsive and undeserving of our sympathy. We shouldn't feel sorry for him/her for two reasons: 1. Because we are no better, and 2. Because he/she is NOT WITHOUT HOPE. We should feel grateful that God has designed each and every one of us to need a Savior, to be faced with our flawed tendencies so that we seek out His help. Otherwise, we would never turn to Him, and the truth is that He is the center of the universe. Not you, and not me. He is what life is all about and living our lives thinking and acting otherwise is foolish.
7. Who should we feel sorry for then? I believe we should feel sorry for those who think they have it all together. Who believe they have no need of a Savior. Who have looked at their own flawed tendencies, whatever they may be (pride, drunkenness, lying, rage, laziness, sexual deviancy, passivity, etc.) and rather than humbly putting faith in Christ to save them from themselves, they determine to just give into their instincts and define their own morality, choosing to make themselves the center of the universe and elevating themselves to the place of god in their own minds. He/She is to be most pitied, and prayed for.
And that's what I think about that.
GLIMMER: A dim perception or inkling. To appear faintly or dimly.
A glimmer is a powerful thing. In and of itself, it isn't much, but what it alludes to, the hope that it holds out - that is powerful.
We can go through times of intense difficulty, sorrow, heartache, and hardship if we have a glimmer of something better in the future to hold on to. The truly hard times come when we have put our hope in a glimmer of something that turns out to be artificial and doesn't pan out. The glimmer of a potential relationship that might alleviate loneliness. The glimmer of a potential windfall that will cushion a financial blow. The glimmer of a better job that will provide improved working conditions and a good income. The glimmer of a change of scenery and a fresh start to be provided by a move to new place. What is the saying? "All that glitters is not gold." We could substitute "glimmer" for "glitter" quite easily.
Thankfully, God provides many glimmers here on earth worth holding on to. Examples of his grace and mercy and ultimate deity that will not disappoint us. If we open our eyes to perceive the glimmers of eternal hope that God casts upon the waters of our lives, we will gain strength and courage to continue on the journey. Sometimes we need others to point out the these sparkling reflections when we fail to see them. Sometimes we need to be the ones pointing them out to others.
There is a song by Addison Road entitled, What Do I Know of Holy, that contains a line that brings tears to my eyes every time I hear it or sing it: "Then I caught a glimpse of who You might be. The slightest hint of You brought me down to my knees." God has given me many hints of who He is throughout the pages scripture and of my life story, and in nature. What I need to remember and grasp onto is that the reality of who God is (all powerful, all loving, all knowing, ever present, perfectly holy and just) is magnified a million times over from the glimpses of Him I have perceived. He loves me with absolute purity. He protects me with absolute surety. He knows me with absolute clarity. He is in complete control. When we see glimmers of the eternal attributes of the one true God in our lives and in the world around us, they should bring us to our knees, and we should gain strength and hope no matter what our circumstances. The glimmers of God reflect a perfection we can't even begin to imagine.
So when we are tempted to hang our hats on glimmers of things like relationships, jobs, money or greener pastures, let us learn to quickly reject putting the full weight of our hope on them, and instead refuse to settle for a glimmers of anything less than God's perfect will for our lives and the world. He is the only source of light that endures.
1 Corinthians 13:12 "Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely." NLT
Why We Rest
This week I watched a sermon online entitled, The Hard Work of Rest, about the importance of God-given (and commanded) rest. (Thank you, Pastor Craig!)
The sermon covered many portions of scripture on the topic in both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. What stood out to me most came from Deuteronomy 5:12-15 (You'll recognize this as coming from the 10 Commandments):
"Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the Lord your God has commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your ox, your donkey or any of your animals, nor the alien within your gates, so that your man servant and maidservant may rest, as you do. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day." NIV
According to this scripture, we see that the original Sabbath day of rest was instituted to remind the Israelites that they had once had earthly masters who required them to work seven days a week as slaves, but that God, their true Master, had rescued them and that the "work" of resting every seventh day was to be a symbol of how they are set apart and have no other Master but God Himself. Nothing else and no one else was to rule their days but Him. No task was more important, no one's wishes more critical to attend to than the Lord of the Sabbath's.
How are we doing with this concept today? Do the activities of our lives show that we have one and only one Master? Or are our schedules driven relentlessly by the demands of the moment? Do our calendars rule over us, or do we order our days as those who have been bought with a price?
I am challenged to rest with purpose... not just to fall into a heap of exhaustion every Sunday after church or to rest needlessly and lazily when my hands have barely labored. Whether I eat or drink, or rest or work, may it all be done to His glory - that the world may see that He is the one sustaining me and that His provision is perfect.
How do you go about resting, as a way of remembering and honoring the God who is in control?
The Holy Spirit of God
Today in my personal time of Bible study, I was compelled to write down all of the ways that I can find that God tells us in scripture that the Holy Spirit is (or should be) active in the lives of Believers. I tend to focus on one or two of His qualities and neglect others, but this is not the way I want to live and it is not the way I was designed to live. The Bible tells us that the Holy Spirit is God Himself, present and active, enabling believers to do whatever God asks of us. Here is what I've uncovered so far:
- The Holy Spirit lets us know what God's will is for us. "But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come." John 16:13 NIV
- The Holy Spirit guides us into all Truth, teaching us Truth and reminding us of Truth. "But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you." John 14:26 NIV "He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you." John 16:45-15 NIV
- The Holy Spirit helps us when we pray. "In the same way the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's will." Romans 8:26-28 NIV "And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. Ephesians 6:18 NIV
- The Holy Spirit uses the Word of God in our lives like a sword. "Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God." Ephesians 6:17 NIV "For the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow, it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart." Hebrews 4:12 NIV
- The Holy Spirit's presence in our lives is reassurance of our salvation. "Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come." 2 Corinthians 1:21-22 NIV
- He gives us the ability to understand spiritual things and to live counter-culturally when necessary. "We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man's judgment: 'For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct Him?' But we have the mind of Christ." 1 Corinthians 2:12-16 NIV
- The Holy Spirit gives us the ability to say no to our natural sinful tendencies. "So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law." Galatians 5:16-18
- The Holy Spirit produces Christ-like qualities in our lives. "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law." Galatians 5:22-23 NIV
I want to know God's will for my life!
I want to know what is True and be reminded of it when I forget!
I want help to pray when I don't know how to pray!
I want the Word of God to make a difference in my life and help me discern my true motivations!
I want to have assurance of my salvation!
I want to understand spiritual things and have what it takes to live out my convictions even when it is hard!
I want to be able to reject the sinful tendencies in my life!
I want my life to be full of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control!
Apparently what I really want is to embrace the reality of the Holy Spirit of God living within me! "Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit." Galatians 5:25 NIV
This is a picture of a painting by Domenico Feti, titled "Ecce Homo" (Behold the Man). I am not an art enthusiast by any stretch of the imagination. I can appreciate the talent, time and craftsmanship that go into creating a beautiful work of art, but I am not trained or wired in such a way to pick up on the subtle nuances that differentiate good art from great art. I just know what I like. I know what moves me.
In the early 1700's a man by the name of Nicholas Zinzendorf visited an art museum in Dusseldorf, Germany and first laid eyes on Domenico Feti's painting of Jesus Christ. Underneath the painting were the words, "All this I did for thee, what hast thou done for Me?" The depiction of the face of Christ in this painting stayed with Zinzendorf, and Christ's love and sacrifice became the compelling force of his life. He went on to pastor a single church that sent out more missionaries than the whole Protestant church had done in the previous 200 years! His church had three members on the mission field for every one sitting in the congregation on a Sunday morning. Zinzendorf also expressed his appreciation and devotion to Christ through a life of prayer, spending countless hours in prayer and seeking to lead others to commit to prayer as well. His example led his church to begin a prayer movement called "hourly intercession" where they prayed in shifts, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for the work of Christ around the world. This went on uninterrupted for over 100 years!
When I read about this story (in Henry Blackaby's, Called and Accountable), what struck me far more than the exciting things that happened in Nicholas Zinzendorf's church, was the faithfulness of Domenico Feti to create a work of art and put it out there for the world to react to. If Feti hadn't pursued his calling as a gifted artist, Zinzendorf's heart would not have been captured that day at the museum. Today, I am thankful for artists of every variety - painters, writers, sculptors, inventors, movie-makers, actors, musicians, illustrators, glass blowers, dancers, singers, song writers, designers, architects, and all the rest. Your work does not have to be perfect! If you will put it in His hands and let Him decide how to use it, you never know what impact it may have on the world. Be true to your calling, whatever it may be and do all things with excellence, but don't let your own insecurities or perfectionism keep you from putting on display that which God has given you to give to the world.
Matthew 25:19-21, "After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. The man who had received the five talents brought the other five. 'Master,' he said, 'you entrusted me with five talents. See, I have gained five more.' His master replied, 'Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share in your master's happiness!'"
Pale Blue Dot
It’s the twentieth anniversary of the famous “pale blue dot” photo – Earth as seen from Voyager 1 while on the edge of our solar system (approximately 3,762,136,324 miles from home).
Carl Sagan: "Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering... every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every superstar, every 'supreme leader,' every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there - on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam. The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds."
Carl Sagan describes this so eloquently and hits the nail on the head at how inconsequential we people and our grand ideas and notions are in comparison to the vast universe. AND YET - Today I am reminded to think about the God who created that universe, and yet loves me "this speck upon that blue dot" so much that he knows how many hairs are on my head. UNFATHOMABLE. INDESCRIBABLE. I stand in AWE.
Genesis 1:16-17 - "God made the two great lights, the greater light to govern the day, and the lesser light to govern the night; He made the stars also. God placed them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, and to govern the day and the night, and to separate the light from the darkness; and God saw that it was good."
Psalm 19:1-3 - "The heavens are telling the glory of God, their expanse declares the work of His hands. Day after day they pour forth speech, and night after night they tell us what they know. There is no place where there is speech where their voices are not heard." (paraphrase)
Matthew 10:30 - "And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered." - Jesus of Nazareth, The Christ
This blog post was inspired by: http://blog.jmlynch.org/2010/02/13/pale-blue-dot/
I took a wonderful hour and a half long walk today around my new home town. I soaked it all in - the sights and the sounds, even the smells (when I walked past the coffe shop, anyway). I was looking for the good... and I didn't have to look far to find it. I took this picture when I looked up underneath a big beautiful tree that was shading the sidewalk I was on and realized that it was loaded with apples. What a wonderful surprise! When you look for the good in life - you can usually find it. It isn't always obvious, sometimes you have to look up, or under, or behind, or through something else to find it, but you can be confident that it is there. On those occasions when the good is hard to find, it is helpful to remember that... that IT IS THERE regardless of whether we happen upon it or not.
I was reading through James again recently and I stopped in the first chapter in verse 13 which says, "Let no one say when he is tempted, I am being tempted by God, for God cannot be tempted by evil and He Himself does not tempt anyone." I looked up that word "evil" in the original Greek and was surprised to find that it means "what is worthless." God cannot be tempted by what is worthless. Hmmm. Of course he can't! He defines what is of worth, what is good.
I think back to childhood days when an older child in our neighborhood would get a kick out of offering a penny to a younger child in exchange for his dime... the youngster would greedily look at that penny, note its unique color and how it was so much bigger than the dime, and would inevitably agree to the trade, having no clue he had just given up something ten times as valuable as what he received.
How many times in life have I made a similar trade... not with money but by exchanging something much more valuable... time with my family or loved ones, the opportunity to share my faith with another person, time to pray or study the Word, time to serve others an dmeet their needs... I guess sometimes as humans, we fail to see the worth that God has instilled in these simple activiites... they don't look as "shiny" or "big" so we exchange them for something we think is better when all the while, we've been duped! Let's look for the good... it is WORTH it!
Carla Ritz. Proof positive that God uses cracked pots!