Thursday, January 17, 2013

Storms and Oak Trees

"Some of the storms of life come suddenly:  a great sorrow, a bitter disappointment, a crushing defeat.  Some come slowly...Yet it is in the storm that God equips us for service.  When God wants an oak He plants it on the moor where the storms will shake it and the rains will beat down upon it, and it is in the midnight battle with elements that the oak wins its rugged fiber and becomes the king of the forest."  
      - Mrs.  Charles E. Cowman, Streams in the Desert

Funny thing about storms.  They can be disorienting.  During one Northern California storm I found myself driving along through some mountain roads back to Humboldt County.  It was pouring so hard I could barely see the road in front of me.  The sun began to set and it was getting dark.  The fears of "what if's" began to rise.  Having been in a few car accidents, and having the prior experience of vehicles breaking down on some out-of-the-way roadsides, those fears weren't based on unrealistic ideas of what could happen.  They were based on some indelible bad memories.  Storms can be like that.  They take in not only what is happening in the present, but they can bring along a carload of baggage from our past.  

Yet each storm has the capacity to bring with it elements designed to strengthen our fiber.  With each variety of storm there is a faith-test.  It seems it often comes when we think we are dangerously close to that line of what we think we cannot handle.  I've found that the line I think I can handle and the line of what God knows I can cope with are two different lines.  Interesting, how we think we are in charge of that line.  But it is often in those moments when we believe we are at our wits end that God either brings us a solution or supplies us adequate grace to take the next step.

In those moments the faith-test goes something like this:  God asks,
"Do you still trust Me?"  When you can't see in front of you, when the circumstances are the worst thing you can imagine, and when you believe you have no inner resources to endure this particular nightmare, can God be trusted? 

The Faith Giants of the New and Old Testaments often stood on that wobbily dividing line that life put in their path and they had to make a decision whether to step forward by sheer faith alone or step back. 

Hebrews 11:6 tells us, "And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him."  That belief is not merely an intellectual nod but concrete actions of trust.  Stepping forward, staying the course, going on and doing the right thing even when there seems little hope.

One reward of repeated steps of faith is the strong rugged fiber of the heart that is developed during hard times.  It replaces the former faint-of-heart kind of belief that wilts under adversity.  One's insides are changed.  Without storms our faith would remain delicate.  But through the storms we are made ready for the Master's service.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

The Evening News, Gobbildy-Gook and Hope

The evening news was discouraging.  Politics, the aftermath of a natural disaster, people in despair, the economy...rough stuff.  One understands on a greater level why the 'Great Depression' had that  a very accurate name, and one wonders about the similarities to our current situation.  It appears that harder economic times will affect all of least everyone we know.  Most everyone has already felt some of the sting.  I just talked to two people, that as of yesterday, no longer have their jobs.  People are hurting.

I so appreciate that I am able to watch the evening news with a former history teacher and someone who was involved in politics at the city level at one point during his life.  It is my dear husband.  I pepper him with questions about the Great Depression and the gobbildy-gook going on in Washington.  One reason I like to turn to history and to then engage in Bible reading is for the sense of perspective it gives us, especially in these times.  My daily reading took me to the book of Job where things weren't so rosy for this perfectly nice moral God-fearing guy.  In the nineteenth and twentieth chapters he is trying to defend himself against his so-called friends, he is physically in pain and what seems to be the icing on the cake is that everyone, and I mean everyone, has rejected him.  Even his wife finds his breath repulsive.  Talk about reasons to be depressed!

But then Job does this wonderful thing.  Amid reciting all the agonies of his current life he has a moment of clarity.  It's like he suddenly lifts his head up, sees the clouds, sees the rays of sun beating warm upon his hurting body and says, "But as for me, I know my Redeemer lives and He will stand upon the earth at last.  And after my body has decayed, yet in my body I will see God!  I will see Him for myself.  Yes, I will see Him with my own eyes.  I am overwhelmed at the thought! (Job 19:25-27 NLT).

It's so interesting that Job breaks out with this beautiful truth in the midst of his suffering.  The bottom line was his hope was in God.  Job didn't deny how bad things were going.  He talked about it a lot, as I'm sure we all would given the same set of circumstances.  Yet his moment of perspective was vital for his stability and well being.  It was a glimpse of truth.

A couple more encouraging verses to uplift us when we are undergoing things beyond our understanding:  "The eternal God is your refuge;  and His everlasting arms are under you.  (Deuteronomy 33:27a).  And, "Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning.  (Psalm 30:5b).  Sometimes nights are long, but the morning is as sure as our current experiences.  With the Apostle Paul we can concur:  "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."  (I Corinthians 13:12).

May you experience some moments of clarity today, may you be caused to lift your head and feel some rays of sun beating warm upon your soul.  And may you be encouraged that even if we don't see it now, there is a bigger picture on the horizon.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Humboldt Crud and Bucket Lists

Well, where we live they call it the 'Humboldt Crud.'  We are taking turns with this sickness at our house, and evidently it's my turn.  Being under the weather affords a little 'think time.'  It would not be nice to attend church and pass around the bug today, so at home I sit, and help watch the little one and do this and that and think.

Watching the news the other night it was rather sobering to see all the celebrities and famous folk who passed away this year.  Added to this list were quite a few sweet people we knew personally who closed the final chapter in their earthly lives.  It makes one ponder as we start to turn to the page 2013 and begin to write upon it, knowing that life itself may take the pen and write what it wants to write, instead of what we had planned.

It's funny how many things on our bucket list are just that - things....experiences, maybe.  Wanting to do something exciting, go some place we have never been or achieving something is often at the top of these lists.  But when it is all said and done, and we turn that last page in our book, all we really want are close relationships.

So as 2013 comes into view, I'm thinking about relationships and realizing their development trumps any bucket list.  There are so many people in our lives to love and learn to understand a little better.  And as much as that means, there is a relationship that means even more - for we enter this life as an individual, and we leave it the same way.  And then we stand before the Creator of Life.  I would not want to stand before His presence as a stranger or acquaintance.  No, that is the relationship above all worth investing great time and effort.

So, 2013, here is to relationships, earthly and heavenly, human and divine.  May your year be rich with people whom you love, people whom you will forgive and may your year be especially made rich by the One who offers forgiveness to us all.  Happy New Year.     

Monday, December 24, 2012

Born into a Rocking and Reeling World

Hope was born on Christmas Eve into a world that was chaotic, rocking and reeling. "The people who walk in darkness will see a great light."  Isaiah 9:2a  To our minds, what a crazy way to save the world...sending a baby? "For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us;"  Isaiah 9:6a  Yet all these centuries later as we still see the amazing effects of this Christ-child upon humanity and how the concepts of compassion and mercy were exemplified through Him and made possible by Him. "And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace."  Isaiah 9:6b  Even now we see great and powerful acts of love and heroism, inspired by His life, amid the turmoil, the chaos, the grief, the things we just shake our heads over... "There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace."  Isaiah 9:7a  The world is still rocking and reeling, and the story is not over. But because of this babe in the manger, we have true hope. Christmas is giving, because God have us Jesus. Happy Birthday to the baby born in Bethlehem. Silent night, peace to your souls, and Merry Christmas.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Feeling Alone at Christmas?

Do you feel alone?  This rugged individualism isn't as romantic as it's cracked up to be.  At this time of year feelings of aloneness can become overwhelming.  We do well in those moments to cling to what we know to be true and not be carried away by our emotions.  And this is truth:  Into this dark world more than two-thousand years ago was born a vulnerable baby, completely dependent on His young, inexperienced, financially poor parents.  The world and culture into which He was born was a scary and violent one.  This little family was, in a sense, 'homeless' at His birth, having to use an animal stable for a birth room.  Talk about feeling alone.  Yet, the HOPE of the world was born on that dark night! 

This child grew into the someone who would divide history - B.C. and A.D.  The world's whole concept of mercy and compassion would come about through this One born on the day we celebrate 'Christmas.'  This One would so radically change millions of lives that there would be multitudes of works of kindness done in His name.  Hospitals would be built, the dying would die in the arms of tenderhearted strangers, educational institutions would be founded, the undeserving forgiven, words about Him would give hope to those in despair and His light within the life of millions would change the world for the better.

Sadly, there would also be those who oppose Him and the forces of evil would bring devastation to many.  Some would even do inconceivable wrong in His name.  Christmas accelerated an all out war between good and evil, and evil often has great power.  But God's power is greater and stronger and  broke through our darkness and helplessness on that first Christmas night.  In times of feeling alone or if we are experiencing a time of depression we need to remember that.  God is stronger than whatever we are going through!

God in the flesh, God with us, Emmanuel.  No longer would God seem distant but closer than one's own breath, and as hard as it is to imagine, He wants to be an intimate friend to each of us.  He never wants us to be alone of feel alone, again.

Having a rough day or a difficult season?  Christ knows what it feels like.  He's been there before us and if we invite Him into our lives He promises to be with us, always.  We never have to be alone again. 

"Don't be afraid, for I am with you.  Don't be discouraged, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you and help you.  I will hold you up with my victorious right hand."  Isaiah 41:10 

As we see the Christmas lights peering through the darkness let it be a reminder to us, hope broke into our world on Christmas night.  The light of the world has come!        

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Horrific Grief and the Hope of Heaven

Grief is a constant part of life, although a part we don't like to talk about much.  We grieve loss in many areas but certainly the most profound and deepest grief is to lose a loved one.  And when that loved one is a child the sorrow is unspeakable.  As people of faith we too grieve and mourn the insane violence and loss of life that has thrust many families, a whole community and an entire nation into a season of deepest and profound sadness.  And although our hearts and emotions suffer through this time, as believers in Christ, we grieve with hope.  Our faith is made more real as we cling to God not necessarily for answers but for a trust that believes that ultimately in heaven.  In heaven there will be justice, the wrongs will be made right and in a supernatural way we can't understand, our tears will be wiped a way.  A glimpse into this heaven is when Job in all his suffering had an encounter with God, and suddenly it was enough.  We won't have that answer here on earth but the hope of heaven is everything when our hearts are so broken. 

In that picture of hope we visualize all those children running into Jesus arms.

The parents of a child who was born with many birth defects and physical suffering shared with me that what helps them to cope and stay away from depression is to serve others and they do so beautifully in many circumstances.  Their faith is made real for they do more than intellectually say "we believe," they demonstrate hope by investing in the lives of others.

In this horrific season of grief, we do well to imitate this families example, and through our questions, struggle with grief and hurt, seek to touch another life, uplift someone else and serve someone in Jesus name who can't return the favor.