Nailed Down

Suffering comes to all of us in various ways and to varying degrees through out our lives.

There are things we go through that in the moment seem big but afterward when we have some perspective of time and distance we realize those same incidents were smaller than they originally seemed.

Other times there is just no denying the heaviness and weight of some suffering. We know it and recognize it and those around us know it and recognize it. It’s big suffering.

Right now I know people who are all suffering to varying degrees.

I know people dealing with the recent death of loved ones.

I know people struggling with health issues.

I know people dealing with hard decisions and difficult situations.

I have friends who are just weary and need rest.

I know people facing their own lack and shortcomings as spouses and parents.

I know the struggles I face with my sin on a daily basis.

But I also know a God who is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. One who is gracious and merciful.

No matter where you are in this moment or what situation you might be facing, know that the God who created everything out of nothing sees you. He knows you. He knows where you are right now and He knows where you will be tomorrow and the day after that and the day after that.

Take heart, friend. Be reminded of this truth shared by Tim Keller ~

“Christianity teaches that, contra fatalism, suffering is overwhelming;

contra Buddhism, suffering is real;

contra karma, suffering is often unfair;

but contra secularism, suffering is meaningful.

There is a purpose to it, and if faced rightly, it can drive us like a nail deep into the love of God and into more stability and spiritual power than you can imagine.” 

What beautiful hope we have knowing that, big or small, our suffering drives us closer to God!

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Made For This

The New Testament is filled with admonitions  to love one another and to bear one another’s burdens. Indeed, we’re told that first loving Christ and then our neighbor as our self fulfills the whole law. 

One of the things I wrote in the ‘about me’ section when I started this blog was about the desire I had to live a life that is fully in line in word and deed with all I said I believed about God…who He is and what He requires of His children.

I’ve become more and more convinced that what we say about forgiveness, about joining in another’s suffering, about life and death and resurrection must be lived out day-to-day in our relationships.

In May Rob and I will celebrate nineteen years of marriage. There is no doubt in my mind that I have been formed and fashioned by God to be his wife. I was made to love him.

I have been, and am being, fashioned to suit him in his sin. Not to share in it with him but to bear with him through it. To suffer the pain of it. But that also means I have been, and am being, fashioned and shaped to share in his repentance and restoration. Just as he is being fashioned and formed to share in my sin, my suffering, repentance, and restoration.

As a parent we experience the same thing with our children. Have you ever not felt the sorrow or pain that comes as a result of sin being brought to light when correcting your child? Proverbs tells us much happiness or much sorrow is bound up in our children and how they walk through life.

We’re also told in Proverbs 17 that a friend loves at all times and a brother is born for adversity. We are made to walk the hard roads with each other.

We are called to the same fashioning and shaping to one another in every relationship we have to varying degrees of intimacy.

Be kind…tenderhearted…forgiving…

With all humility and gentleness…bearing with one another…

Sometimes the offense will seem too great. The hurt too deep. But God doesn’t have a sliding scale that He allows us to weigh and measure out the sins of others. The good news is that there isn’t one to weigh and measure out your sin either. Because while some sins seem to be bigger and worse than others the truth is that all sin seeks to destroy and all of our sins are an offense before the Righteous One.

Recently, I was present at the birth of my friend’s daughter. Her labor had been moving along when the midwife checked her and said it was time to start pushing. For a moment my friend panicked and said she couldn’t remember what she needed to do, how to push.

All I could do was remind her that she had been made for this. God had formed and fashioned her body to bear this child into the world. Feeling her weakest she was actually at her strongest leaning into the  pain and oh, the sweet sweet joy when baby Ruby arrived.

Forgive, even when it hurts beyond more than you think you can bear. Take up the suffering of your spouse, your child, your friend. Help carry their burden. Weep with the ones who weep. Rejoice with those who rejoice.

Your soul was made for such.

What Is Wisdom

I think I am guilty of reducing it down to knowing the right thing to do or say in any given situation. Which is certainly true of wisdom. We say a wise person is a wise person because of those very characteristics.

It’s not that I think that isn’t a correct view but it’s more that wisdom itself is something altogether and my definition is actually the working out of wisdom in a person.

We are exhorted over and over in Scriptures to seek wisdom, to get wisdom, to buy wisdom, to hunt for her as treasure that is far greater than silver or gold, she is described as a precious jewel, and we are to call her our sister.

Seems a bit fuller than just knowing the right thing to say, doesn’t it?

At the end of chapter three James gives us a more robust definition of wisdom.

But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. ~James 3:17

Obviously, if I am to be wise then I must be honest about my own sin. How can there be purity if I am harboring unconfessed sin?

What exactly is meant by ‘peaceable’? Peaceable is defined as not contentious or quarrelsome, quietly behaved and free from strife or disorder. Sometimes my heart and mind are anything but free from disorder and quietly behaved.

I know I am not always gentle and open to reason. Mercy can be in short supply when I am offended and the fruit of my life is sometimes bitter. My bent is toward myself so impartial and sincere are out the window if I am not careful.

Wisdom would seem  impossible except that we do know where wisdom comes from and how to get it.

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. ~ James 1:5

We aren’t called to be wise for our good alone, although that is a definite benefit. We are called to be wise so that we can help comfort and encourage others to deal with their sin. We are called to be wise so that we can bring peace and gentleness to a world that is lacking peace and gentleness. We need wisdom to know how to reason with one another through the hard uncomfortable things and show mercy when we don’t get it right. We need wisdom so that good fruit can flourish not just in our lives but so it can be nurtured in others. We need wisdom so that we can be governed by something other than our own desire and will so that we seek the genuine good of those around us.

We know where to find it. We know He will be faithful in the giving of it. May we be brave enough to ask for it.

 

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Coming Full Circle

I mentioned recently how much has changed in my life in the past few months and how much being part of the Bible reading challenge has played a role in that change. The other component to that has been enjoying the study of Romans in our local Bible Study Fellowship group. (Side note: If you aren’t familiar with BSF but would like to be a part of a solid Bible study for women look them up and see if there is one near you. I have thoroughly enjoyed and grown from my participation in ways I didn’t even know I needed.)

We’re in Romans eight right now and just as God seemed to be doing something behind the scenes with the Bible reading challenge I feel like stuff in my mind and heart is being moved and rearranged as a result of the group sharing time and lectures each week. The desire to have my life fall in line with the confessions of who God is and how He expects His children to live is being shaken…the kind of shaken in Psalm 62…the kind of shaken in Hebrews 12 where only that which cannot be shaken will remain.

It’s a glorious and slightly scary place to be.

Lecture last week dealt with the topic of suffering.

It is a foolish thing to deny that suffering happens in our world. You only need to watch about five seconds of the news to see wildfires, earthquakes, draughts, and famines. It’s also a foolish thing to deny that we face suffering in our lives as well. And actually Paul makes the case for suffering by reminding us that in order to be glorified with Him (Christ) then we must also take part in His suffering. In verse eighteen Paul says that his own suffering is not worth even comparing to the glory that awaits. In II Corinthians he refers to light and temporary troubles…this from the man who suffered about every way a person can suffer.

We know there is physical suffering. We get sick. People die. Bones break and skin tears.

We know emotional suffering. Feelings can be hurt and hearts wounded.

We know of mental suffering. We can suffer from depression and breakdowns.

We know relational suffering. We can treat each other horribly and with great unkindness.

We also know internal suffering…feelings of guilt and shame plague us.

I know I have experienced every form of suffering on that list to varying degrees. I also know that in the midst of each one my only hope has been that Christ’ suffering far outweighs mine no matter how devastating my experience, and it is accomplishing a purpose. Somehow, I am being made more into the likeness of His Son through my suffering.

On Sunday our New Testament reading was from Hebrews chapter five. Verse eight jumped off the page at me, “Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered.” Emphasis is mine.

His way of learning obedience to the will of the Father was through His suffering. The preceding verse refers to His time of prayer and crying out to the Father in the garden. He suffered with the knowledge of what was to come and through it made His way in obedience to death.

His obedience led to perfection and our eternal salvation and Paul went on to say that there was so much more to say about it but it was hard to explain because his readers had become hard of hearing or sluggish.

I don’t want to be sluggish in my hearing and I want to have a right view of the suffering that comes into my life. I want to lean into it and follow it all the way to obedience to the point of death. Physically if need be but far more likely in the dying of self so that I may love those around me, forgive those around me, to show Him to those around me.

I really want that. Or at least I think I do even though I realize I am asking for it out of certain amount of ignorance of what that could actually mean in reality. But in this I come full circle back to Romans eight and thank God that while I may not be able to pray as I ought the Spirit of God intercedes on my behalf and there is One who searches and knows my heart. On this I can rest. On this I can trust.

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Lean into suffering, friend. Embrace it and seek God through it. Because in those valleys He is found and your love is strengthened.

The Quiet

It is a wet gray day here. The kind of day where you probably want to just stay inside.

I have to go to the grocery store but after that my plan is to hunker down and enjoy this first day back to our routine and normal schedule.

Christmas decorations have been taken down and pine needles swept up. I’ve always enjoyed this feeling of emptiness, this sense of quiet, that comes when the colorful holiday dress has been packed away.

IMG_0012I feel like I can think a little more clearly, a little more cleanly, if that makes any sense at all.

The winding road that travels through the anticipation of Advent and the hills of joyous celebration of His arrival lead us to the summit of Epiphany when He is revealed to the whole world. The space where we stand is vast and stretches free and wide open.

This same road will eventually descend into the valley of Lent and into the darkness of Good Friday before bursting into the brightness of the Resurrection.

The rearranging caused by Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany is a way to orient ourselves to the reality of our need for Christ.

Our need for this baby is great.

Our need for Him to grown in favor with God and man is immeasurable.

Those seemingly empty spaces need to be flooded with the understanding of our need for a Savior. For One who would bear our sin and take it to the cross and defeat a foe we can’t hope to rule over on our own.

Inhale the quiet.

Breathe deeply and rejoice that Love has come.

No Further

 

                                                      Or who shut in the sea with doors

IMG_5653when it burst out from the womb,

when I made clouds its garment

and thick darkness its swaddling band,

and prescribed limits for it

and set  bars and doors,

and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no further,

and here shall your proud waves be stayed’?

                                                                                                  Job 38:8-11

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Mercy ~It’s Not What We Think

Yesterday we marked the twelfth and final day of Christmas. Today we take decorations down and pack stuff up until next year. It was a bit of an odd year with some things happening a little differently. Work schedules and travel plans flipped some of our planned days around from when we would normally do them. The perfect storm converged and we did not celebrate Christmas early with my extended family either.

The whole holiday season has just been rather odd this year.

But it got me to thinking about how we view things. How sometimes we think it is all figured out and then we realize that maybe things aren’t what we thought they were exactly.

Lately I’ve been thinking of mercy specifically.

And I am wondering if we’ve sucked all the life out of the meaning of mercy by making it this gentle soothing caricature of its true self.

At Christmas time we speak of the mercy of God arriving in the form of a babe, wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manager…all is calm and all is bright. We tend to visualize this glowy moment without taking into account the violent and painful reality of birthing a baby into the world.

And the host of angels singing! I know I tend to see that in my head as this beautiful bright ethereal moment of joyous worship, which it was of course, but the angels we picture are these bright flowy gentle beings with beatific smiles. And I think given various descriptions in the Bible (think Isaiah six if nothing else) it was probably  thunderous in sound and terrifying visually.

A few weeks ago Rob preached a sermon in which he remarked that God loves to tear things apart. In the very beginning of the Creation narrative we find Him separating thing from thing and making something else.

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Light cracked the sky and invaded darkness.

In a violent act of mercy so that Adam would not be alone, God tore a hole in his side and broke off a rib, using it to shape and form his helpmeet.

Mercy is not gentle.

 

Have you ever had a moment when you thought you were drowning? When the water became a living thing that seemed to assault you? And you are fighting desperately to save yourself and in a bizarre and brutal act of mercy a giant fish swallows you whole? And then later vomits you back up?

Mercy is not gentle.

Mercy is a a vicious beating…a violent Roman cross…a sword piercing flesh.

Mercy is sometimes the brutal confession of sin on the lips of a loved one.

It is the strong rebuke of a friend.

We don’t need a soft gentle mercy. We need the kind of mercy that wounds and cleans our innermost parts. The kind of mercy that is equal in measure, even greater than, our sin. That’s the kind of mercy that brings healing to our bones.

I’m thinking mercy itself is not so gentle or tender but it yields a peace, a restfulness, that is and it far surpasses whatever our gentle pats on the back and kind words can contrive.

I think maybe we are to seek the hard mercies of God. Because His mercy produces life.